Isolation booth: Abuse or therapy for school kids?

LONGVIEW, Wash. - Longview Public School administrators call it an "isolation booth" and photos of it are creating a Facebook firestorm.

Some parents say they're worried kids are being abused when they're locked inside it at school.

The isolation booth has been at Mint Valley Elementary School for the past four years. That's because the school hosts a special education program for disabled students with behavioral issues. The booth is used to calm some of them down when they're at risk of hurting themselves or others.

In a matter of hours after they were posted, the photos of the isolation booth were shared on Facebook about 100 times.

The pictures show that from the outside, the booth is located in a storage area and has two peepholes at different heights. Inside, students can sit on the floor of the small padded room, and the ceiling features air holes for ventilation.

The original Facebook poster, Ana Bate, a Longview mother, criticized its use as abusive, arguing children are locked in for crying or tapping on their desks.

Comments echoed by other Facebook posters like Darren Pirtle asked "seriously ... have the police been notified that this is being used??"

Marcy Brinkerhoff-Hogg wrote, "that is terrible and should NEVER be used regardless if the child is out of control or not."

And Jena Raelyn Brown suggested, writing in all capital letters: "if a parent did that at home they would get put in jail!!!"

Bate, whose 10-year-old son is not in the special education program, told KATU News late Tuesday night that her son told her he saw several kids go in the box.

In one instance, a female aide came up behind a boy, picked him up off the floor and dropped him into the isolation box. He landed on the floor and cried the entire time. In another instance a boy, who was placed inside the box for lifting up a desk, became violent while he was inside.

"My question for the school district is how is that therapeutic if not directly opposite from this supposed reinforcement they'd like everybody to believe it to be?" she said. "If they are being paid to lock people up, get extra education and work in mental health or psychiatric units, not with children that have minds that need to be explored, need to be expanded, that need to feel safe."

But the district does not think it is abusive.

"People have their own opinions without having a lot of the information about it. I would not classify it as abusive," said Sandy Catt, the director of communications for Longview public schools.

Catt said that the isolation booth is designed as therapy for children needing to calm down.

Of the 6,500 students in the Longview School District, only eight or nine are allowed to go inside, and that's because the school has permission from their parents.

"It is concerning to us that there may not be a complete understanding of the situation," Catt said.

She said some of the eight or nine kids voluntarily go inside the booth for a break from stimulation. She added when the door is locked a school staff member is outside, monitoring what happens.

Catt said the school district had never received a complaint about the isolation booth until Tuesday, and still, none of those complaints has come from parents whose students went inside.

And for those parents who object, their students would never be placed inside because the district requires parent permission. Bate told KATU News she questions parents who agree to let their kids go inside the box.